HUNTING THE PERFECT COMPUTER AND COMING ATTRACTIONS

It was our anniversary yesterday. I didn’t spend the day reading blogs and writing. Instead, I goofed off.

We went out to dinner. After we came home, I didn’t start putting together a post for today. I did put together something special for Saturday. Garry wrote it. I did most of the photography (and all of the processing … but I always do all the processing). It’s fiction and funny. It sure made us laugh. And we had a lot of fun putting it together. It took much more work than most of our posts and far more planning that either of us is usually willing to do. So it will be up solo (!!) on Saturday. Hope you like it.

It’s fiction. Those of you who know old movies will recognize bits of  Sunset Boulevard peeking through.

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I spent the rest of the day not buying a new computer. I know I’ll have to buy something eventually, but I not sure what I need or want.

I’m not thrilled with Windows 10. I’m less than happy with the road Microsoft has been taking for several years. I’m least happy with their requiring you to take all update downloads automatically. I have not had good experiences with automatic updates and I’m reluctant to  surrender control of my computer.

On the other hand, I’m pretty sure Apple invented the word “proprietary” and having owned lots of Apple computers and other devices over the course of my life in technology, I’m not sure they would be a better choice. Just … different.

Most Apple computers I’ve looked at seem under-powered and over-priced. The tech support people are snobs. Sorry, but they are. Every time I have had to deal with them, I wanted to whack them.

After a lot of browsing, I’ve found a couple of computers I like. One is an Asus, the other is by MSI. Neither is a company with which I’ve previously dealt. The machines are priced right and have impressive specs. Both also have well-documented issues: Hinges and build quality on the Asus, and getting too hot to handle and weird software glitches on the MSI.

alienware side view computer

I have always found Dell/Alienware to be solid, long-lasting machines that work perfectly right out of the box. But — they are expensive. Almost all of them cost at least 25% more than equivalent machines made by other companies, yet maybe they are worth it. Every Dell I’ve owned has continued to run when other computers are buried in a landfill. Most are still running and essentially problem free many years later. I’ve moved up and on, but my former computers are running fine for people who aren’t Photoshop users. And don’t have a strong preference for listening to audiobooks while processing photographs, which is what finally forced me to get this machine. Discrete graphics makes a huge difference.

I’m putting computers on wish lists, hoping something will pop, be the perfect combination of specs, build quality, and price.

Until I find whatever, I’m looking, not buying. I’m open to suggestions and would appreciate them. Although I’m not a gamer, I’m addicted to having a computer that will do everything — at the same time. Fast. And never, ever crash.

THE SCARIEST THING

I was terrified.

Was it a big hairy spider? A home invader? A tornado? A threatened lawsuit? A burst pipe? A volcanic eruption (in New England, that would really be something else!) … ?

No. My computer refused to boot. It got to the “welcome” screen then just sat there. Going around and around and around. It has never done that. It was fine when we left to go to the grocery store. No blue screens of death or anything at all. It was computering along uncomplaining. Fine, thank you.

But. It. Would. Not. Boot.

I put it in “safe mode with networking” and restored it to the last save point … two days ago. And now, it’s fine again. No idea what happened except for a tiny, brief message that said “new drivers installed” then vanished — this while it was in “safe mode.” What drivers? I didn’t install any new equipment and the only driver I regularly upgrade is for my graphics card.

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So I have no idea what happened, but my heart is pounding and I’ve got a headache. I think my blood pressure just went into the stratosphere.

Although the computer is essential to my life, in fact everything on it would be easy enough to restore. Photographs and documents are safely stored on two external hard drives. My virtual life is on various clouds somewhere out in the Ether World — WordPress, Google, the bank, Amazon and probably a few others I can’t think of offhand. Other than Photoshop which I have on DVD, all my software is easy enough to replace by downloading.  Yet having my computer not boot filled me with dread and a horrible feeling of powerlessness. I think I’m less afraid of spiders … and that’s saying something because I’m really phobic about arachnids.

I will never know what happened. A virus? A bad download? Nothing is supposed to download to this system without my permission. It’s one of the reasons I don’t like Windows 10. You can’t turn off automatic downloads. I hate when things happen and I have no control over them.

If I wasn’t sure how important my computer is in my world, this absolutely showed me the bare, ugly truth. I need my computer like I need air. How did it come to this?

And wasn’t it a long way down.

WRESTLING WITH THE COMPUTER

I spent a day and a night in mortal combat with my computer. It wasn’t my computer’s fault. It was some update that caused something else to malfunction. Like a house of cards, it just went down and stayed down. Wouldn’t boot, wouldn’t tell me what the problem was. Finally, I managed to grab the last few digits of the blue-screen message and determined the area of the problem was graphics, coaxed the computer into backing up to a time before the “update,” and everything began to settle down.

As I near the end of the “free installation” period for Windows 10, Microsoft has become ever more strident in its determination to install it, including trying to install it without my permission.

windows 10

Which doesn’t work. It just errors out and makes a mess. This computer with its fancy shmantzy graphics card doesn’t run properly with Windows 10. It slows to a crawl, loses it’s file structure. I’ve attempted to install it four times and gotten fatal errors. It either crashed and would not recover, or it recovered, but was inoperable after a reboot. Enough being enough, I decided I’m fine with Windows 7.

I’ll be glad when the “free installation” period is over and I can stop worrying about sneak attacks on my operating system.

Technically, nothing can install without my permission. My settings decree I have to start an update before anything installs. But Microsoft seems to have found a way around my settings. To keep my computer working the way I want it, I turn it OFF unless I am sitting in front of it. This is inconvenient, but not as inconvenient as having Windows 10 trying to install itself while I am in the shower.

I’m hoping I’ve got it back on track now. These wrestling matches with the operating system are no fun and I absolutely do not want to have to replace this computer. Not only do I not have the money, but I’m happy with this computer. I don’t want the hassles that go with setting up a new one — especially using a different operating system.

I think I’m back. So far, so good.

IF TV SHOWS WERE REAL – TOM CURLEY

I watch a lot of TV. Probably too much. I’m fond of action shows. I’m really fond of all the various comic book shows.

The single thing these shows have in common is they all have at least one computer genius. A girl or guy geek who’s the best hacker in the business. They always have at least a half-dozen computer monitors in front of them. Each one has 10 or more windows open with lines of data scrolling by at about a hundred miles an hour. They can do anything and everything. Instantly.

falcontradingsystems.com

falcontradingsystems.com

BOSS: I know this is illegal, but I need you to hack into the CIA, NSA and FBI servers. They have the most secure and impenetrable firewalls ever designed. Can you do it?

COMPUTER GENIUS: I was into all three 15 seconds ago, sir.

The ones that work for the FBI can find anything in 10 seconds or less.

FBI BOSS: Our serial killer is male, early thirties, white, and probably living in a two square mile region south of Albany, Georgia. He’s left handed  and likes string cheese. We need to narrow our search …

FBI COMPUTER GENIUS: Found him! His photo, home address and a copy of his permanent High School record have already been sent to your phone.

Not the real bad guy

Not the real bad guy

But this got me to thinking. What would these shows look like if they were happening in the real world?

BOSS OF SUPER SECRET GOVERNMENT ORGANIZATION TASKED WITH SAVING THE WORLD FROM SUPER BAD EVIL DOERS:  OK, listen up. You two are the world’s best black hat and white hat hackers. We’ve brought you here because a Super Bad Evil Doer has stolen software that will allow him to access all the world powers’ nuclear codes. He is demanding 1 trillion dollars in ransom or he will launch all the missiles at once and destroy the Earth. You each have a whole bunch of computer screens in front of you with dozens of boxes open scrolling lines and lines of stuff. You have less than 10 minutes to somehow find our Evil Doer and figure out a way to block him from launching those missiles. Can you do it?

HACKER #1: Yes, but we will need to write some specialized software, at least 10 to 20 thousand lines of code.

BOSS: My God!  Can you do it in time???

HACKER #2: Already done sir. Now all we have to do is upload it to the Evil Doer’s computer. Ready to send in 3, 2 ….

HACKER #1: NO! NO! NO!

HACKER #2: What’s wrong? OH GOD NO! NO! NO!

BOSS: What’s happening?!

HACKER #1: My computer is shutting down!!

HACKER #2: MINE TOO!

BOSS: Are you being hacked? Have your computers been infiltrated by some kind of malicious software? Does the Evil Doer have a genius hacker of his own???

HACKER #1: WORSE! Windows just installed updates! It’s rebooting so the updates can take effect!

windows shut down

BOSS: Can you stop it!??

HACKER #2: It’s too late! Look! It’s already started rebooting and configuring the updates!

windowsupdateinstalling_40853_l

BOSS: There’s nothing you can do???!

HACKER #2: No sir. Look at the screen. It says “Please do not power off or unplug your machine while updates are in progress”!

windows updates 1

BOSS: How long will it take to reboot?

HACKER #1: God only knows! Look! It’s still installing update six of ten! This could take an hour! Even more.

BOSS: We have less than ten minutes before nuclear Armageddon! What are we going to?

HACKER #1: Wait! I’ve got it! I can use my smart phone!

HACKER #2: Yes! We will have to adapt about 15 thousand lines of code but …

HACKER #1: It’s done! OK now all I have to do is input and send the kill command. “NEUTRALIZE ALL NUCLEAR LAUNCH CODES”. And … done!

BOSS: Thank God!

HACKER #2: Oh NO! You entered “NEUTRALIZE ALL NUCLEAR LUNCH CODES”!!

HACKER #1: What?! Damn you AUTOCORRECT!

autocorrect

BOSS: What do we do now!!

HACKER #2: You know what? Pay the ransom. I’ve had it with Windows. I mean look, it’s still on update 6 of 10! We’re going to be here all day!

HACKER #1: I agree. Pay the money. This is just too much trouble. I’m telling you, ever since my phone updated to iOS 9.0.1, nothing works right.

HACKER #2: Tell me about it.

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As the two hackers walk off into the sunset discussing whether or not upgrading to Windows 10 would make the situation better or worse, small mushroom clouds appear in the distance.

doodleordie.com

doodleordie.com

Yeah, that’s pretty much how it would happen.

MISPLACED, NOT LOST

I sat here last night. Pondering the differences between this computer which runs Windows 7 Professional and all my other computers which run Windows 7 Home Premium. That was the precise moment I realized I had not the slightest idea where I’d put the system disks for this computer.

It was alarming. I next realized I’d no idea where I put the system disk for the version of Windows 7 installed the other laptop and was a bit hazy on where to locate disks for any of computer.

side view alienware closeup computer

I have every version of Quicken I ever bought — a lot of Quickens — but I no longer use Quicken. I do know where I keep my DVDs for Photoshop which is good because Adobe only sells their products online these days. I found more than half a dozen versions of Scrabble, but none will run on this system.

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Sometime around midnight, I went into a frenzy of searching for the system disks for this computer because I doubt they are replaceable. Garry found them. Sitting, half-buried, on the keyboard of the electric organ. Which no one plays because it doesn’t work.

So many computers have come and gone, I have system software for computers that left my possession years ago. I’m not sure what “Garry’s 14Z” means, because at some point, his 14Z was reloaded and I gave him my 14z. After repair, what had been his 14Z became my “spare laptop,” the one I use to listen to audiobooks as I fall asleep and that was replaced by a big Kindle. So what, exactly, does “Garry’s 14Z” mean? Anything?

my office and desktop computer

I have every version of old software I ever used. Manuals too. Empty boxes for each camera I bought. A lot of cameras. A lot of boxes. Empty Kindle boxes back to the first keyboard Kindle I owned.

I finally dumped the boxes of floppy disks which I have no way to read. I’ve kept CDs of documents and photos going back more than a decade, even though I have the same stuff on external hard drives. Who knows how long before CDs can’t be read anymore? I haven’t tried to read them in a long time, so I don’t know if even now the data is usable. Much of technology is faith-based.

Everything is “somewhere.” Nothing is lost. It’s just … misplaced. Sometimes permanently.

Misplaced

A NEW LOOK FOR SERENDIPITY

I have changed the look of Serendipity. Again. I am pretty sure I’ve gone through at least a dozen templates since I started blogging more than four years ago.

Why? Because I’ve had a series of issues for the last three or four months. Some minor ones, others not so minor. All of them required intervention which, to WordPress’s credit, they have worked through and fixed.

I am convinced at least some of them are glitches connected to the Wilson theme I have been using. This isn’t the first time I’ve had a template “go sour.”  I have a theory about this. I cannot prove it, but I believe it’s true.

UNTITLED

WordPress is forever messing around with their software. These changes affect not only what they intend, but have many unintended “side effects.” Like the way the new software affects individual template functions. They don’t do much (any?) beta testing. Like so many other big software companies, they make changes, throw the new version out to customers and let us find the problems for them.

I hate this casual attitude toward properly testing software. I resent it as do most serious technology users. But apparently testing new versions of software is not included in the development budget. Plenty of money to develop and not one cent for testing. Aggravating.

So, after I’ve been using a theme for a few months, glitches start appearing. It’s like playing Whack-a-Mole. You smack one problem down, another pops up. You whack that one over the head and out of the game, and three more spring from holes in the ground.

After a while, you figure “Okay, time to change games.” Or, in this case, templates.

This theme is “Untitled” and it displays pictures well and large. I’m not sure I like the way it handles text, but I will give it a chance. There are a lot of templates. I haven’t tried all of them. Yet.

TECHNOLOGY AS TRASH

computer gargoyle

In 2013, the computer industry declared me obsolete. Irrelevant. Anyone who can’t or won’t afford software subscriptions to “keep up to date,” is in trouble. Adobe stopped selling DVDs of their product and other companies are following suit though not as quickly expected. There’s been quite a bit of push back from folks like me.

alienware side view computer

Personally, I don’t mind running a version or two behind the latest thing. Especially since many new versions don’t work better — or even as well — as those I own. I can easily go years without “updating” my software. I guess software companies don’t make enough money selling new releases to folks like me.

Aside from the problem I have with adding an ongoing expense to my already tight budget, I prefer owning my software. I don’t like being entirely dependent on my WiFi connection.

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I remember getting a “You’ve Been Hacked!” letter from Adobe. The hack affected (depending on who you believed) between 38 and 150 million people. All of us have had our personal information stolen somewhere or other. Not only by Adobe. My bank got hacked. So did Walmart, Land’s End, and our local grocery store.

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At least our grocery doesn’t collect personal information from customers. It’s one of the few companies that doesn’t. In case you don’t already know this, the discount cards in your wallet are how the places at which you shop collect information about your personal shopping habits. So they can sell your data to marketing companies — the people who harass you with emails, phone calls, and junk mail. And scams.

Where’s our outrage, our demands for better service and security?

When my equipment stops working — which is once in a blue moon — I call the “Guy Who Fixes PCs.” He comes to the house.  Replaces the broken bits. Cleans out any viruses that have snuck past the anti-virus software. I give him money. He gives me a card with his cell number so if the problems comes back, he’ll come back and fix’em.

72-alien-102914_14 computer keyboard

Am I the only one who is in no position to dump equipment and replace it? I’m still in debt for the stuff I have. Moreover, I hate the throwaway society we are building and the mindset that comes with it.

Disposable is not a better way. It’s destroying the environment. Polluting landfills. Making an already profligate society ever more wasteful. We talk about green, but we don’t live green.

Once upon a time, Garry and I were working a ridiculous number of hours and started using paper plates. To avoid washing dishes. After doing this for a while, I found myself washing paper plates. I couldn’t bear throwing them out. It seemed wrong. I rediscovered the concept of re-usability. I had dishes in the cupboard. I could use them, wash them — and use them again! It was an epiphany!

Photoshop

We are turning into a world of paper plate users. Everything, from cars to computers to kitchen appliances are junk. When whatever it is stops running, toss it. Don’t even think about fixing it. Change your cell phone every six months. Toss the old one.

Somewhere on this planet, there is a giant, bottomless hole into which the garbage goes and it will never fill up, right?

Not.